The word on the street is that director David Slade's Eclipse is the best of the movie adaptations of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Saga to date. Certainly it's the lightest and brightest everyone is still chaste, but the movie is actually sexy in parts. It appears to have embraced its own sense of camp and is consistently funny in an intentional way. For the first time, I found myself curious to see what comes next.
But it may be that I'm suffering from a self-preservation instinct, a cinematic Stockholm syndrome. Eclipse marks my third trip to Forks, Wash. Your first time, it's easy to be snotty about a place. On your second, maybe you grudgingly admit that the eye candy isn't bad. But the third time your employer sends you to Forks, you had better get sucked in, or you'll lose your mind. You have to find the joy in the endless dopey declarations of love, the physical comedy in red-eyed armies of vampires fording deep Northwestern rivers and the titillation in a tent scene that plays like a parody of Brokeback Mountain yet maintains its erotic charge.
We first find Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and her vampire beau Edward (Robert Pattinson) embracing in a field of flowers, as they are wont to do. They exchange pretty, dignified kisses, the kind that won't gross out any 12-year-olds. They save their tongues instead for their usual poetry. "Marry me," he says. "Change me," she demands. And so on.
In the context of the world's most vaunted human-vampire love story (unless, like me, you haven't gotten over Buffy and Angel), "change me" means make me a vampire. But with socially awkward Bella, the subtext is, Relieve me of the human teenage condition of not fitting in. Not to mention, Are you ever going to put out and change me from virgin to woman? As Bella, Stewart finally seems more confident. She's stopped fussing with her hair and she seems to relish having some humorous lines. "Do I even want to know what that is?" Bella asks her shape-shifting pal Jacob (Taylor Lautner) when he mentions that his wolf companions "imprint" on other people.
In a prologue, a young man from Forks named Riley (Xavier Samuel) is bloodied on a Seattle dock by an unseen assailant, a scene that sets up the central conflict, a war between the Forks vamps and a new coven in Seattle led by red-haired Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard, replacing Rachelle Lefevre). Revenge is afoot. But the real business at hand is decisionmaking. Bella has said she'll stay human until after high school graduation, but that day is fast approaching. The Volturi want her dead or turned. Eclipse is really about making the choice between life and death.
It's the bridge to the final book, Breaking Dawn, in which Bella is, um, finally fulfilled (an event so enormous, it will require two box office expenditures, i.e., movies). What is fascinating is how much of Eclipse's language parrots the language of the never-ending abortion debate. "I envy you. You had a choice," Rosalie (Nikki Reed), Edward's vampire "sister" tells Bella. Rosalie was turned a century or so ago by a kindly vampire who found her dying in the street after a gang rape led by her fiancé (now that is a vampire after-school special). "I want you to understand all your options," the beautiful Jacob says, before presenting Bella with the first option: kissing him. She could also rest her head on his warm pectoral, her hand on the third can to the right in his six-pack.
Doesn't that sound good? That fussy maiden Edward only lets her undo a couple of his shirt buttons. Thus the cinematic versions begin to diverge from its origin. At my preview screening, when Jacob tells Bella, "I'm exactly right for you, Bella; it would be as easy as breathing with me," the entire audience sighed, a collective expulsion of emotion that said, "Listen to the simmering beefcake!" When her classmate Jessica (the clever Anna Kendrick) gives a graduation speech proclaiming that this is the time to make mistakes, figure out who they want to be, to live, we all want that message to get through to stubborn Bella. But we know it won't. Anyone who was alive at the time of Breaking Dawn's release knows Team Jacob is out of luck.
This is not how it was supposed to go down. Edward is supposed to be the Rhett Butler figure, not Jacob. You could chalk up this growing dissatisfaction with the overall narrative to a casting problem or a screenwriting issue (Lautner does get the funniest lines), except who really thinks Lautner is a more compelling presence than Pattinson? What's happening is that the movies are demonstrating the central problem with the books: becoming a vampire is a lousy choice. Mutiny may be in order.